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This is Where US Residents Are Moving in 2016

The fastest-growing counties, metro areas, and cities, plus more moving trends

By Matt Carmichael on September 20, 2016

Moving Livability

Here are my three big predictions in regards to the present and future trends in moving and relocation:

  1. While big cities might put states “on the map,” there’s certainly evidence that smaller, cheaper alternatives are proving a draw, even in places that are otherwise losing population—like Michigan, Minnesota and southern Ohio.
  2. The older, established metros like Chicago, New York, Los Angeles and others need to get their schools and finances together or they will see the current outward trends accelerate as Millennials age, have kids and need schools. Of course, educated Millennials aren’t the only ones leaving these areas, but they’re the ones who can most afford to choose their next destination.
  3. The South and West continue to attract movers (and here’s why), but the Northwest is a draw now as well – partially due to the high reputation for livability associated with those states, which is bringing in new businesses and residents alike.

How did I arrive that those conclusions? By taking a nice, deep dive into today’s release of population projections from the U.S. Census Bureau.

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Here’s what I found:

Any way you slice it, Texas is the big population winner for 2015. At the state level, it added more residents (490,000) than any other. Four of its metros added more than 412,000 people (that’s more than any other state-level total) between July 2014 and July 2015, according to data released today by the U.S. Census Bureau. The Houston area added about 159,000, while the Dallas-Fort Worth area added another 145,000. Adding 412,000 people is about the same as adding a city the size of Miami or Oakland. That’s a lot of people.

Overall, the nation’s 381 metro areas house about 275 million people. About 285 of them saw growth during that period.

Growth at the county level

Net growth is all well and good, but the pieces that make up that pie are interesting in themselves. Population change comes from a variety of sources. People are born, people die, people move in and people move out. Let’s spend a little time looking at the winners and losers at the county level, based on two of those that relate a lot to livability: people moving, and children being born.

The fastest-growing counties (in terms of people moving in) are in the fastest-growing metros primarily in the South and the West (and Florida). These areas (Las Vegas, Phoenix, Dallas and Houston) have been gaining people left and right for years now. However, not all of Texas is winning people over. El Paso cracks the top 10 for counties losing residents.

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Despite all that is written about the explosion of population and interest in our largest cities, four of the counties losing the most people are boroughs of New York City. Most cities reside in counties (some overlap county lines), but New York City is unique in that it’s so large that the city itself is made up of five counties, and four of them are bleeding people. The fifth, Richmond County (aka Staten Island), saw its population remain more or less unchanged.

Cook County Il., home of Chicago and its collar suburbs, had more than 50,000 people move out, and saw its first overall population decline since 2007. That’s like losing the population of Chicago neighbor Oak Park, Il. in one year. Los Angeles County lost even more to people moving out.

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Next, let’s turn to areas where people are being born 

As we already mentioned, the growth of downtown urban centers faces one significant hurdle: their school systems. As Millennials age (and they’re turning 30 at a rate of 12,000 per day), their kids will eventually need schools. And urban school systems are in a disarray from coast to coast. So watching where people are being born, and where they move from there as they hit school age will tell us a lot about urban/suburban trends in the coming decades.

From these two tables we see that Los Angeles County has about two births for every death, a pretty good ratio for growth, until you factor in the number of people who moved away. This means that any growth from movers will be coming from international migration.

Harris County (Houston) Texas has an even better ratio – almost three births per death – and is adding people from domestic migration. That’s a great formula for growth.

Chicago’s Cook County? Not so much. The birth/death ratio is pretty tight and certainly not enough to overcome the drain of domestic emigration. Chicago’s suburban counties are losing people, too.

None of these trends are set in stone. Smart planning, sound fiscal management and investment in schools, and attention to quality of place are all important. Movers typically have a choice. If you want your city to grow and prosper, the key is making sure that your town floats to the top of the short list.

Follow-up article: Why so many Americans are moving south and west


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